Adjusting to large system changes means that difficult decisions about priorities need to be made. The first priorities need to be equity and the health, well-being, and connections among students, families, and teachers. Although these issues are not specific to science and engineering, they have deep implications for science and engineering education.
The guiding questions in this chapter are intended to help education practitioners consider how this volume’s four foundational principles—in particular, Principles 2 and 3—can be applied to planning for building relationships and supporting the needs of all students.
How are relationships between educators and students and among students themselves being built, maintained, and strengthened?
After schools closed in spring 2020 due to COVID-19, many students reported that they missed being with their friends. These kinds of social connections are not frivolous: it is essential for students to stay connected to their peers and to their teachers and other supportive adults. What happens in classrooms is not only about content.
In either classroom or remote environments, building and strengthening interpersonal relationships is especially important for students in a time of upheaval.1 Students thrive when they are in supportive environments where they feel
1 Kirkland, D.E. (n.d.). Guidance on Culturally Responsive-Sustaining School Reopenings: Centering Equity to Humanize the Process of Coming Back Together. NYU Steinhardt Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Available: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bc5da7c3560c36b7dab1922/t/5ec68ebc23cff3478cd25f12/1590070973440/GUIDANCE+ON+CULTURALLY+RESPONSIVE-+SUSTAINING+RE-OPENING+%281%29.pdf.
known and valued by trusted peers and teachers.2 Building relationships among class members and a classroom community helps students develop a sense of belonging. With these interpersonal connections in place, students are more likely to contribute to the work of idea building in class, whether remote or in-person.3
Box 3-1 describes the efforts an elementary teacher was able to make with his students during the first few months of remote instruction in spring 2020 to ensure that they stayed connected and that he made them feel valued.
2 See Darling-Hammond, D., Flook, L., Cook-Haarvey, C., Barron, B., and Osher, D. (2020). Implications for Educational Practice of the Science of Learning and Development. Available: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10888691.2018.1537791?needAccess=true.
Although it is not likely that all teachers would be able to have the frequency and level of one-on-one contact with their students as Steve does in the story, many other types of personal connections can be made to ensure students feel supported. For example, teachers could send weekly emails to each student to invite students to talk if they would like to.
In addition to the social and emotional health and well-being students derive from their social connections, they also benefit academically from these social connections. Inherent to the Framework and the NGSS is the need for students to communicate their developing ideas with others as they use the three dimensions to explain phenomena and solve problems. Consensus about phenomena and problems requires social interaction and discourse4 (see Chapter 4). This need emphasizes the importance of using synchronous class time for dialog and collaboration when classes are held remotely. When synchronous class time is not available or when some students cannot participate in synchronous class time, one
of the first priorities for teachers will be exploring different strategies for enabling student discourse asynchronously or offline (see Chapter 4). Learning is collaborative—students cannot engage in Framework-based science and engineering education alone.5
Learning is also cultural. From the preface of the 2019 report Investigations and Design at the Center:
“Learning is more meaningful when investigation and design are relevant to student lives. Investigation and design that are connected to students’ culture and place tend to increase student interest in learning. Culturally responsive teaching requires teachers to understand the students’ culture and place, use inclusive pedagogies to meet the needs of all their students, and adapt instruction by using phenomena and challenges that are linked to students’ place and culture.” (Science and Engineering for Grades 6–12: Investigation and Design at the Center, p. vii)
When teachers get to know students, their families, and their cultures, they can better tailor instruction that makes connections to their students’ existing knowledge, helping to foster the student engagement that is more critical and often more difficult to maintain in remote, blended, or hybrid learning environments. These personal connections also support the development of deep learning and the ability to apply knowledge and skills to novel situations.6 When all students can see connections between their existing knowledge and what they are doing in class, learning experiences become more equitable. In addition, students can begin to see more easily how science and engineering apply to their everyday lives.7
If teachers do not have much in-person time with their students, building relationships and learning about students’ lives may not happen as naturally as it would in a full-time classroom setting. Setting aside focused time to get to know each other may be necessary to set up a trusting learning environment. In addition, to help make connections to students’ lives and cultures, teachers may need support and guidance for recognizing the assets that students from diverse backgrounds bring to science and engineering classes, including their prior experiences
and cultural perspectives.8 Professional learning can help teachers begin developing the knowledge and skills necessary to support inclusion of diverse perspectives and to use them to increase relevance for all students.9
How are relationships being built, maintained, and strengthened among educators, families, and communities?
In addition to building direct relationships with their students, educators currently have an opportunity to reimagine stronger relationships to students’ homes and communities. Building and strengthening these relationships can result in powerful partnerships with allies who are committed to supporting their students. These partnerships can also provide opportunities for teachers to better understand students’ background, culture, and funds of knowledge. These student assets can be the basis for increasing engagement by connecting learning to students’ prior knowledge and experience.10
Family members, caregivers, and other people involved in students’ lives can also be assets for other students in their child’s class. For example, when instruction focuses on some outdoor environments, the class could seek out and make use of knowledge about the historical connections of these environments to native communities. When the class is working to solve problems, students could survey their families and other community members to gather information about practices that could help inform the design of a solution.
Box 3-2 tells how Carina, a bilingual ESL teacher, engages immigrant families with their students in remote learning conversations and how the input from family members is valued by her and her students.
When the teacher in the story intentionally invited participation by students’ families, she was communicating that she valued the family members’ input and that students’ experiences at home are relevant to what they are learning at school. The parents who shared ideas with this class might not have realized the
8 For more information, see Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/18802/chapter/5#31. Also see English learners in STEM subjects: Transforming classrooms, schools, and lives. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/25182/chapter/5#102.
10 See Basterra, M., Shaffer, S., and Self, J. (In press). STEM Education: Engaging Families and Communities. Council of Chief State School Officers. Also see Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Available https://www.nap.edu/read/25216/chapter/12#270. Also see English learners in STEM subjects: Transforming classrooms, schools, and lives. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/25182/chapter/7.
effects their support and participation had on their children simply by making connections between schoolwork and family background and culture.
To feel empowered as full partners in supporting their students’ science and engineering learning, families and community members may need help understanding the importance of science and engineering education. Some families view science as less important than other subjects, such as reading, writing, and math.11 They may not realize how much science and engineering are already used in their daily lives, whether they are cooking, gardening, troubleshooting a broken doorknob, or making sense of claims in the news. They also may not understand the critical role they play in supporting their students with science and engineering learning experiences and may believe that they do not know enough to be able to help.
There is evidence to suggest that changing parents’ attitudes toward science can affect student learning outcomes.12 Once families share a vision of the critical role science and engineering play in their children’s lives, they can also be powerful
advocates in districts and states to ensure that science and engineering coursework is available for all students—including throughout elementary school. Resources, including in multiple languages, are available to support family understanding of and involvement in student science and engineering learning: for example, the Council of State Science Supervisors offers resources and suggestions for family science learning, translated into six different languages.13 Family learning resources are also available in which families can engage in real-world activities building toward cross-curricular learning goals; one example is Learning in Places.14
Communication between families and schools will be essential throughout the school year. Families will need to learn about school and district plans, and teachers and schools need to learn about families’ needs and receive feedback from them.15 In particular, hearing from families from underrepresented groups needs to be a priority.16 Sometimes language barriers hinder open communication between families and educators, and then neither families’ nor schools’ needs are met. When communication materials are provided in families’ own languages, the families can become equal partners in supporting students.
If relationships between families and the school were not in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be challenges related to contacting the families. It can be helpful to make use of community partnerships, such as those created by community schools, to reach all families and establish relationships (see Chapter 7). However, families cannot be required to engage with schools, so it is important that support for students and their learning experience does not depend on close relationships between families and the teacher. Detailed suggestions for supporting families can be found in the Council of Chief State School Officers document, Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning: Systems Conditions.17
“Attention to equity also requires consideration of how to meet the differing needs of students, including those who have special learning needs, do not have access to technology, are learning English as a second language,
16 See Ishimaru, A.M. (2018). Re-imagining turnaround: Families and communities leading educational justice. Journal of Educational Administration, 56(5), 546–561.
are living in difficult economic circumstances, or are from nondominant cultural backgrounds.” (Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, Ch. 4, p. 21)
Students and teachers are all learning how to do schooling differently. This is a difficult and stressful process in the middle of the already stressful and sometimes traumatic backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a shift to remote instruction in many schools, students may have less access to some of their normal networks and support systems, including peers and school faculty. In particular, students with disabilities, students of color, immigrants, English learners, and students from underresourced communities may be disproportionately affected.
Students’ emotional experiences will influence their approach to learning. Providing mental and emotional supports will be critical, and building relationships is key to supporting students’ mental and emotional well-being. As discussed above, students benefit when teachers have built relationships and are able to check in frequently. Keeping open lines of communication with students is a top priority to ensure teachers stay aware of their students’ needs. This will help provide opportunities for teachers to identify students who are struggling with trauma or chronic stress and who need individualized supports.
Providing students with explicit instruction in social and emotional skills, habits, and mindsets can also be a very valuable investment of time.18 Districts and schools can provide guidance, support, and structures for teachers to help them learn how to provide this kind of instruction, how to support student well-being, and how to identify students who would benefit from intensive supports and connect them to the resources they need.19,20 This guidance and training can be tailored to the specific needs of a school’s students, which might also affect decisions about instructional models, such as whether buildings are open or closed and which students need in-person instruction. For example, students who have difficulties reading and writing may need more face-to-face support, and families
18 See Darling-Hammond, D., Flook, L., Cook-Haarvey, C., Barron, B., and Osher, D. (2020). Implications for Educational Practice of the Science of Learning and Development. Available: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10888691.2018.1537791?needAccess=true.
19 For more information, see Science and Engineering in Grades 6-12: Investigation and Design at the Center. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/25216/chapter/9#205; and https://www.sreb.org/mental-healthand-well-being.
of students with special needs may not be equipped to provide the care students can receive at school. Other students may benefit from the use of assistive technology, whether remotely or in school, providing materials in multiple formats, or allowing them to participate through multiple modalities.21 Whether in remote or in-person environments, following the principles of universal design for learning can maximize students’ opportunities to engage in scientific and engineering investigations.22
Box 3-3 tells the story of high school chemistry teachers Mary and Gavin and their coteachers, who worked together to provide remote supports and modifications for their students with disabilities.
This story highlights many different strategies teachers are using to support students’ individual needs in remote environments, such as minimizing the number of different technological programs students have to use and access, providing translations and English conversation scaffolding, and allowing flexible scheduling and deadlines. The story also shows that several educators working together can provide all of these supports, and that no one teacher was expected to do everything alone.
Promoting equitable participation across different student populations means an emphasis on making meaning, on hearing and understanding the contributions of others, and on communicating ideas in a common effort to build understanding of the phenomenon or to design solutions for the system being studied. (Science and Engineering in Grades 6–12: Investigation and Design at the Center, p. 164)
Another way to help ensure that students can participate equitably in science and engineering is to center teaching and learning on phenomena and problems that connect to students’ everyday lives and interests. This is one reason it is important for teachers to get to know students, their families, and their cultures as discussed in the beginning of the chapter—it allows them to plan instructional experiences that build on students’ funds of knowledge and cultural practices, supporting their learning and making them feel respected23 (see Chapter 4).
Box 3-4 describes how a teacher, Ma. Soulyvic, connected with students’ interests both to engage them in engineering design projects and as a strategy to maintain relationships among students and between the student and the teacher. The story also describes how the teachers and students in this urban school were supported to take time during the school day to relax, socialize, and relieve stress during the first couple of months of shifting instruction to remote environments, supporting their social and emotional well-being.
By modeling the importance of engagement and self-care to his teachers, the principal in the story equipped the teachers to guide their students, in turn, in this kind of self-care. As a result, the students in this school began to learn techniques
that could help them cope with stress and trauma. The students who participated in the evening engineering classes also had additional opportunities to relieve stress and connect with one another weekly, driven by their engagement with the learning.
Detailed guidance about supporting student needs is available in the CCSSO document Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning: Wellbeing and Connection,24 from the National Association of Family, School, and Community Engagement,25 and from Educating All Learners.26 Guidance for improving accessibility of materials is available from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.27 In addition, Next Generation Science Standards: For States, by States. includes seven case studies that offer examples of equitable instruction related to economic disadvantages, race and ethnicity, students with disabilities, English learners, girls, alternative education, and gifted and talented students.28
Teachers are bearing much of the burden of adjusting to the new contexts for schooling. It is important to remember that teachers are human beings first and foremost. They have children and vulnerable family members, as well as their own needs. They are in many cases being asked to completely transition their curriculum in one summer or at the beginning of the school year, and to either use or be prepared to use two different styles of teaching (e.g., both remote and classroom based) at the same time for all their lessons. Many teachers had already been in the process of transitioning their instruction to meet the goals of the Framework and were still working to figure this out for their in-person classrooms. In addition, as is the case with students, teachers may be experiencing traumatic situations related to COVID-19 and may have different learning needs for adapting to the new teaching environments. They may need guidance about self-care29 and may need mental and emotional care and support.
In many cases, schools are setting up support systems for teachers, and providing information and training about self-care, such as the guidance from the
principal in Ma. Soulyvic’s story in Box 3-4, above. Many schools are also working to maintain a sense of community among school faculty. Opportunities are often provided for informal socializing among teachers, providing much-needed social connections, in addition to more formal opportunities to work together and collaborate through professional learning communities (see Chapter 7). In some cases, teachers organize these opportunities on their own, as was the case with the pre-K–2 teacher story in Box 3-1.
Another way to build community and connections is to set aside dedicated time for community-building in the beginning of teacher meetings or professional learning. Box 3-5 provides an example from Stanford University’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching.
In this story, relationship building between teachers is valued by both the teachers and the professional learning facilitators. It is seen as beneficial enough for teacher well-being that a significant portion of time every day, 30 minutes, is dedicated solely to this kind of activity.
More detailed guidance about supporting the individual needs of teachers and other school staff members is available in the CCSSO document Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning: Wellbeing and Connection.30
How are inequities related to students’ access to broadband, devices, and instructional supports being recognized and addressed?
Approximately 15 million to 16 million K–12 public school students, or 30 percent of all public K–12 students, live in households either without an internet connection or device adequate for distance learning at home, a higher number than previously recorded; and of these students, approximately 9 million live in households with neither an adequate connection nor an adequate device for distance learning.31
A significant portion of U.S. schools are operating remotely during at least the beginning of the 2020–2021 school year, and even those operating fully in person are planning for what to do if they have to move to remote instruction. As a result, student access to devices and high-speed broadband is likely to be necessary for learning. With the existing inequities in devices and broadband access, a shift to remote instruction could further limit underserved students’ access to educational supports. For example, if classes use simulations and some students do not have access to a device with enough speed or broadband to engage with the simulation, they could miss out on essential parts of the instructional progression.
Moreover, disparities exist between families in which one or more parent is able to work from home and provide some support to a child during remote learning and other families in which parents are essential workers and cannot stay home.32 Disparities in resources are also not limited to remote learning environments. Schools receive significantly different levels of funding for facilities, staffing, science and engineering supplies and equipment, and computing technologies
31 See Chandra, S., Chang, A., Day, L., Fazlullah, A., Liu, J., McBride, L., Mudalige, T., and Weiss, D. (2020). Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning. Available: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/kids-action/publications/closing-the-k-12-digital-divide-in-the-age-of-distance-learning.
for classroom use;33 these differences will affect schools’ abilities to adapt to the pandemic and provide services for students.
The National School Boards Association defines educational equity as “intentionally allocating resources, instruction, and opportunities according to need.”34 Many school districts embraced this idea in spring 2020, partnering with technology companies to provide devices or hotspots to students who needed them.35 These kinds of programs are available from some states and broadband providers and have been compiled by the State Education Technology Directors Association.36
Where devices or broadband are not available, districts have often been focusing efforts on providing packets of physical materials to students to allow asynchronous learning without the need for devices or broadband. These are often made available for students to pick up or are sometimes delivered along with school lunches. When these packets support deep and meaningful science and engineering sense-making and problem solving, they can help bolster the development of important knowledge and skills. However, packets of materials cannot alone fully substitute for the student dialog and community necessary to build all of the science and engineering practices and concepts.
Another idea used in some areas is to make use of students’ or their guardians’ cell phones.37 Access to phones is typically more widespread than access to computers at home, but there are limitations to using phones for learning engagement, including the screen size and the way various apps block each other such that only one can fully function at one time. It also is not clear that all students’ cell phone bills will be paid every month or that their phone plans will cover the increased data use needed for remote learning.
When new technologies are used for instructional purposes, teachers need training in their use for engaging students and in managing the new learning environment. In addition, as with any adoption of new technology or methodology, questions and concerns will arise from students and families about the use of the technology itself, as well as the specific class procedures. Providing easy-to-access multilingual support to families will support their engagement.
37 See Garcia, A. (2017). Good reception: Teens, teachers, and mobile media in a Los Angeles high school. The MIT Press.
Making decisions about remote, in-person, hybrid, or blended learning environments, as well as the support structures needed for each, requires careful considerations of the effects on underserved students and on their access to high-quality science and engineering teaching and learning.38 Many districts and schools are formalizing these considerations through guidance documents and trainings.
Box 3-6 describes the efforts of a district supervisor to ensure that his science curriculum team was making social justice and racial equity the top priority in its planning process.
This story illustrates the stepwise approach a district leader took to ensure equity and justice were the focus of decision making in his district. He did not try to do everything himself; he brought together his science curriculum committee so that the team could do the work together. After building a common vision, the team was then able to plan for incorporating these ideas at multiple levels of the education system, supporting the teachers and students in the district.
- Set aside time in classes and professional learning courses specifically for relationship building in the beginning of the school year.
- Integrate opportunities for building relationships throughout science instruction.
- Support educators to begin learning about their students’ cultures and backgrounds and how to leverage these to make learning more engaging and meaningful for students.
- Connect with families as much as possible to encourage and equip them as partners in their children’s learning.
- Provide information and training for teachers on supporting social and emotional well-being, both for themselves and for their students, and on how to recognize signs of students’ mental distress.
- Make all planning decisions, including about instructional tools, pedagogies, and provision and use of technological resources, through a lens of social justice and racial equity.
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